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Fish Curry with Tamarind

Tangy tamarind, creamy coconut milk and a homemade spice paste give this grouper and vegetable curry many layers of deep flavor. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, follow Zak Pelaccio's lead and ask your fishmonger to give you a fish head or two to add to the pot.


slideshow  More Asian Recipes


  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 6

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  • 8 cups water
  • Salt
  • 6 skinless grouper fillets (6 to 7 ounces each)
  • 4 ounces pressed tamarind, cut into large chunks
  • 4 dried small red chiles, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
  • 4 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons mild curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon belacan, crushed
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 12 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, bottom 6 inches only, smashed
  • One 14.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (1 1/3 cups)
  • 1/2 pound okra, stem end trimmed
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
  • 2 to 3 Thai chiles, halved and seeded
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


  1. In a large, deep skillet, bring the water to a simmer with 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the grouper fillets and poach over low heat for 6 minutes, until partially cooked. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to a plate. Pour 4 cups of the poaching liquid into a medium bowl; discard the rest.
  2. Pour 2 cups of the reserved poaching liquid into a bowl and add the tamarind; use a potato masher to break up the tamarind as much as you can. Strain the tamarind juice into a small bowl, pressing on the solids; discard the solids.
  3. In a small skillet, combine the soaked red chiles, garlic, curry powder, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and belacan and toast over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the seasonings to a spice grinder and let cool. Grind the seasonings to a dry paste.
  4. Wipe out the deep skillet and add the vegetable oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook over moderately low heat until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add the spice paste and cook, stirring, until the color deepens slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the onion, curry leaves and lemongrass and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes.
  5. Add the tamarind juice to the skillet and bring to a boil. Add the coconut milk, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, Thai chiles, sugar and the remaining 2 cups of poaching liquid and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and cook the curry over low heat until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is thickened slightly, about 40 minutes.
  6. Cut the fish into 2-inch pieces and nestle them in the sauce. Simmer over moderately high heat until the fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.


Belacan is a pungent seasoning made by grinding small shrimp into a paste that is fermented, dried and pressed into cakes. Belacan is often toasted before being used. It can be ordered from indomart.us.

Suggested Pairing

The warm climate of Napa Valley tends to produce particularly voluptuous bottlings of Chardonnay, ideal partners for this luscious curry.

Contributed By Photo © Geoff Lung Published July 2007

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